While practicing social distancing and sheltering at home, one aspect not getting a lot of attention is how COVID-19 may be affecting our septic systems. With people spending most of their time at home, our systems are getting significantly more use. Many of us are also using more disinfectants around the house in an effort to prevent the spread of the illness. Here’s a look at how COVID-19 may be putting a unique strain on your septic system and what you can do to keep your system running smoothly.
COVID-19 and Increased Septic System Use
Since the surge in COVID-19 cases caused the state to issue a Stay at Home order, people have been spending an unprecedented amount of time at home. Now, even as the order lifts to a recommendation, people are still spending most of their time at home. Parents are working from home, and kids are finally enjoying a summer break (after months of homeschooling). All that time at home means a significant uptick in the load being placed on your septic system. Our septic systems used to get a break during the day while parents went to work and children went to school or summer camp. Now, our septic systems are seeing a deluge of toilet flushing, showering, and laundry.
In addition to the expected strain of being home all the time, people are also cooking more than ever. Whether to avoid going out to eat and potentially being exposed to COVID-19 or to simply pass the time at home, people are preparing more homecooked meals than ever before. Hot breakfasts have replaced cold cereal. Hot lunches have replaced PB&J. People are learning how to make homemade bread. All that cooking, while excellent for our health, means more dishes, which means more FOGs and undigested food finding its way into our septic systems.
COVID-19 and Increased DIY Projects
While the increased use mentioned above may be just an increase in the “typical” strain our systems see, COVID-19 is also causing an increase in DIY projects. Working from home has opened up free time for homeowners to finally tackle all those little projects around the house. Whether patching holes in walls, sprucing things up with a fresh coat of paint, or tackling more significant projects like remodeling a bathroom, all these projects create “liquid waste.” This waste should never be flushed into the septic system, but unfortunately, it often is. These chemicals and non-degradable materials put significant strain on your septic system.
With groomers and hairstylists unable to see clients, many people have also taken to handling their grooming needs at home. While we understand the necessity of giving Fido a bath, especially this time of year, septic owners need to be aware that pet hair poses unique challenges for their systems. Pet hair easily washes down the drain, but it can mat together and cause disastrous clogs in your pipes or your septic system. The same holds true for human hair. Hair, whether animal or human, takes years to fully break down, which means it will add to the layer of sludge within your tank and remain there until you have your tank pumped.
COVID-19 and Increased Disinfectant Use
Largely in an effort to prevent the spread of COVID-19, many homeowners are disinfecting their houses from top to bottom. By adding bleach to their laundry and cleaning every surface with Lysol, septic owners are flushing higher than normal amounts of these chemicals into their septic systems. These chemicals are designed to kill viruses and bacteria, which is why we use them to prevent the spread of disease. Unfortunately, the bacteria within our septic systems is not immune to these chemicals. Overuse of antibacterial chemicals can have a devastating effect on the ecology of your septic system. A damaged biosystem will not be as efficient at breaking down the solids in your septic tank. This can lead to a buildup of solids in your tank as well as solids finding their way into your drainfield or backing up into your home.
Helping Your Septic Survive COVID-19
Now, more than ever, it’s important to keep a keen eye on your household septic usage. Understanding the added strains that COVID-19 is putting on your septic system, conserve water as often as you can. Stagger water-heavy chores, like laundry and running the dishwasher, throughout the week. Encourage conservative flushing habits – maybe flush every other time or only when there are solids that need to be flushed away.
Be especially mindful of what people are flushing down the toilet. As always, sanitary napkins and “flushable” wipes should never be flushed into your septic system. Neither should Clorox wipes, paper towels, tissues, or napkins. If your home has a garbage disposal, stop using it, if you can, or use it as sparingly as possible. Food solids from garbage disposals settle into your septic tank and add to the layer of sludge. Thoroughly brush any pets prior to bathing them, disposing of the collected hair in the garbage. Similarly, if you’re cutting your or your loved ones’ hair, collect the clippings and dispose of them in the garbage, rather than washing them down the drain.
To disinfect your home, rely on septic safe household cleaners and minimize your household use of bleach as much as you can. Opt for “natural” cleaners whenever possible. Lemon juice, due to its highly acidic nature, is an excellent home cleaning agent. As a natural disinfectant, you can use it to clean countertops, toilet bowls, sinks, and appliances. Vinegar is another wonderful scum-busting alternative to chemically laden bathroom cleaners. It cuts through soap scum, mineral deposits, and grease. Baking soda is another septic-safe alternative that works wonders on ovens and stovetops and naturally eliminates odors found in your refrigerator or dishwasher.
Most importantly, be sure to watch for signs that your septic system needs to be pumped. Even if you have an upcoming service visit scheduled with your septic provider, these additional strains on your system may require that you have it pumped prior to your service visit. If you haven’t scheduled your septic service visit, be sure you do so that any issues can be discovered, and mitigated, before they become a bigger problem. Contact us today to schedule a visit!